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Connecting With the Cancer Survivor

June 2008

For cancer survivors, adjusting to life after cancer treatment can be challenging. Fear of the unknown and a sense of powerlessness can leave many survivors feeling unreachable, especially among those closest to them. However, connecting with others is vital to effectively adapt to what many term as a “new normal.”

“Finding new ways to connect with your doctor or health care provider, spouse, caregiver, family members, friends and coworkers takes time and effort on both sides,” said Frances A. Zandstra, RN, OCN, director of the Cancer Survivorship Program at M.  D. Anderson.

“For the caregiver, friend or family member, it’s important to ask the cancer survivor ‘What do you need?’,” Zandstra said. “As a cancer survivor, it’s important to let people know what you need. This is the first step to reconnecting.”

Connect With Your Doctor

For the cancer survivor, developing a dialog with someone on your health care team can help take away the fear of the unknown. Your doctor can help you develop a follow-up plan with a suggested schedule for exams and check-ups to screen for cancer recurrence as well as diseases/side effects that may result from treatment.

Find Ways to Regain Closeness

For the spouse, friends and family members, finding new ways to generate closeness also is important. “Showing the cancer survivor that you’re willing to make that effort is crucial to building strong relationships,” Zandstra said.

Lack of communication and internalizing stress can affect the quality of life of cancer survivors and those trying to support them.

Ways you can connect with the cancer survivor in your life include:

  • Talking
  • Listening
  • Finding humor
  • Creating memorable moments
  • Touching
  • Sharing moments of silence

Connecting with someone also can mean understanding and acceptance. Take the time to learn what that person needs and what feels good within the “new normal.”

“It’s the little things that people often take for granted that can really make a difference,” Zandstra said.

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center